Monthly Archives: April 2012

Cycle planning in London – landscape architects should help

Cyclists love AmsterdamGreat to see cycling as an issue in the election for a London Mayor and, since it is safer to judge politicians by what they do than by what they say, I will vote for the re-election of Boris Johnson. I have SEEN him cycling to work in London. Ken Livingstone  says a bit about cycling but, during his years as Mayor, I SAW no significant improvements – and nor did I hear of him riding a bike.

To ride with the election, the London Cycling Campaign is running  a ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign. The LCC points out that in the 1970s, cycling was not much more popular in Amsterdam than in London. Today, 3% of London journeys are made by bike (this includes 90% of my journeys!) and 47% of Amsterdam journeys are made by bike (figures from Evening Standard 26.4.2012). The cycle park at Zuid Station holds 2500 bikes and parking is free for the first 24 hours. TfL has a cycle park at London Bridge Station which holds 400 bikes and costs £1.50/day.  I would like to see landscape architects taking an active role in London Cycle Planning and Design. Those ugly Barclays cycle ‘superhighways’ should be replaced by beautifully designed  leafy and flowery routes. This will cost money – and the Landscape Institute should be a very-active campaigner for safe, convenient and enjoyable cycle lanes. It would not surprise me if 50% of landscape architects cycle to work in London – so they can be trusted to produce good designs.

Image courtesy MaWá

What are the conditions for good urban landscape design?

Edmund Bacon, in his 1974 book on Design of Cities, interpreted Rome's spatial plan in essentially geometrical terms (an axial movement system). Historically, it was created WITH temporal and spiritual power to symbolise these qualities. Are they still the necessary conditions for good urban design? No living planner or designer has the 'powers' of Sixtus V and Urban VIII. Is this why we are making such disappointing cities?

What are the social, political and economic conditions in which urban landscape design is most likely to flourish? I very much hope my answer to this question is wrong, but here goes: “in cities where an enlightened king was guided by spiritual beliefs”. Why should this be so? (1) Without temporal power, urban design is scarcely possible. (2) without spiritual power, objectives are likely to be short term and non-idealistic (3) short-term commercial and military objectives benefit rulers and disadvantage peoples. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed “Is it not true that professional politicians are boils on the neck of society that prevent it from turning its head and moving its arms?”. “It is not victory that is precious but defeat. Victories are good for governments, whereas defeats are good for the people. After a victory, new victories are sought, while after a defeat one longs for freedom, and usually attains it. Nations need defeats just as individuals need suffering and misfortunes, which deepen the inner life and elevate the spirit.”  The great urban designs were made in periods of faith and monarchy Beijing from 1293-1912, in Isfahan under Shah Jehan, in Rome under the Popes and in Paris under the kings and emperors. What comparable successes can be claimed by the faithless democracies and autocracies of the twentieth century? The great powers of the modern world suffer from not having been defeated in great wars.

Image courtesy RTSS

Corten steel garden planters

Corten steel garden planters

Corten steel garden planters

Iron is the fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust and, by mass, the most common element. It is a wonderful material, famed for its strength and mystery. Iron oxides give soils their red and yellow hues. They are nature’s foil to the often-garish colours of flowers and vivid greens of foliage. But gardeners associate iron with one of their enemies (rust) and coat it with expensive paints. Instead, they should learn to love the rich colours of iron oxide on Corten Steel.

Wrought iron has a low carbon content. Mild steel has a higher carbon content. Cast iron has an even higher carbon content (above 2.1%). Corten steel (patented as Cor-Ten) is an alloy of mild steel with copper and chromium. It oxidises to create a protective outer layer which stops corosion: it rusts a little and rusts no more. One can therefore enjoy the beauty of the iron oxide without worrying about the rusting destroying the steel. Having all the tensile strengh of steel, Corten garden planters are completely frost resistent and impact resistent. Since they are not mass produced, they can be supplied to order (eg by in the UK).
See also: corten steel in garden and landscape design

MOER Green roofs: history, classification and naming

Scandinavian Green Roof Institute at Malmo

Scandinavian Green Roof Institute at Malmo

This blog has often discussed green roofs and green roof typologies but they always need more consideration:

Green roofs c3500BC

Turf was the standard roofing material in Neolithic North Europe. You can still see this roofing technique in Norway and Iceland

Roof garden c1000BC

The most famous elevated garden in history, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, may not have been on a roof. Nothing is known about the construction and they may have been ‘hanging’ on an embankment rather then a roof. But they were definitely used as a garden and the only illustration of this type of space is a carved tablet in the British Museum. This was a place for fruits and flowers and a place to walk in the cool of the evening

Roof gardens in the twentieth century

Cities were becoming much denser and much higher-rise, so people began making modern roof gardens. Corbusier proposed one in Paris and the landscape architect, Ralph Hancock, designed one for Derry and Toms, now called the Kensington Roof Garden

Green roofs in the twentieth century

People began to remember that ‘green stuff’ could also serve as a roof-covering material and then found many reasons for reviving the idea: water conservation, biodiversity, acoustics, insulation etc. This led to the making of what are called ‘extensive’ green roofs and, by way of contrast, roof ‘gardens’ came to be called ‘extensive’ green roofs. I think the terminology began in Germany.

Moer Roofs in the twenty-first century

The City of Malmö and the Scandinavian Green Roof institute established a 9000m3 green roof which is called the Augustenborg Botanical Roof Garden. It is a good project and, though the name suggests ‘a botanical garden on a roof’, the design objectives of the Malmö roof are broad: ‘environmental, economical, and to improve storm water management, health and aesthetics in our communities’. This type of roof needs a new name and we could base it on MOER technology: Multi-Objective Environmental Roofing (pronounced as ‘mower’, for irony). The roles of a broad spectrum Moer Roof would include: social use, aesthetic use, food production use (including aquaponics), water conservation, biodiversity, acoustics, insulation, energy generation, sustainability etc. The SGRA has a useful classification of green roof advantages and design objectives
Image courtesy i-sustain